'La Pastorela': A funny thing happened on the way to 'La Pastorela'

Half a millennium after Franciscan missionaries brought the nativity story to Mexico, the Austin Latino Theater Alliance continues the tradition of La Pastorela but also creates something totally new

Every Pastorela, the reenactment of the shepherds' journey to see the newborn Jesus and triumph over temptation by diablos, is unlike any other. After Franciscan missionaries brought the nativity story to Mexico, the converted indigenous people seasoned it with their culture. Half a millennium later, local artists pull together in the Austin Latino Theater Alliance to create something totally new.

Just as a family might reunite once a year for Christmas, the alliance companies come together every fall for the sole purpose of putting on Pastorela. "The religious aspects of it have taken a back seat to the cultural aspect," says J. Jimenez-Smith of SONAV Productions. He's the latest to serve as director for ALTA's Pastorela, a position that shifts among the alliance companies. "Because the artistic director changes every year, the vision and presentation changes," says Nushank Theater Collective's Marita de la Torre, who took the job of media relations this year. "They flesh out elements in the show so each one has a different story. One year, you may follow a group of shepherds. Last year, the women in the show had issues."

Jimenez-Smith says this year's edition will feature brighter colors and crazier costumes, lights, and set. He's also adding more comedy and a hush-hush angle with the angels. "I told my actors that reality left the door the day we started rehearsal." As this is the only theatre some people see all year, he says he does La Pastorela as "kind of a Chicano postcard to the rest of the community."

The alliance is always looking to involve more members of the community. This year features musical direction by Clemencia Zapata of Conjunto Aztlan and choreography by Marisa Limon of Aztlan Dance Company. One of the cast members, Donato Rodriguez, is from the Mexican American Cultural Center, where ALTA has high hopes of doing the show next year if some of the performance space is completed. For the alliance's pachanga fundraiser this fall, the members went beyond their own circle to include 13 other Latino groups, such as Ballet East, Proyecto Teatro, and Latino Comedy Project. Everyone is drooling for a chance to take part.

Any child who walks into the audition has a part in the show, says de la Torre, who was cast in the first production nearly 10 years ago. "I formed relationships with the younger kids. They would come up to me like, 'You have an agent?'" Jimenez-Smith sees it as an opportunity for younger actors. "We have people of all skill levels: professional actors and people who've never done theatre before." Happily for disciples of Latino theatre, La Pastorela hails from an intrepid alliance that celebrates passionately.


La Pastorela runs through Dec. 17; Thursday-Satur-day, 8pm; Sunday, 3pm; at the Off Center, 2211 Hidalgo. For more information, call 474-TIXS.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

La Pastorela, Austin Latino Theater Alliance, J. Jimenez-Smith, Marita de la Torre

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